Den Danske Borgerkrig 2018-24 (The Danish Civil War 2018-24)
Author: Kaspar Colling Nielsen
Norwegian translation: Kyrre Andreassen
Cappelen Damm AS, Oslo 2018 (originally published in 2014 in Denmark by Gyldendal)
Review by Megan Turney
Den Danske Borgerkrig 2018-24 (The Danish Civil War 2018-24) is an exceptional example of modern Scandinavian science fiction. Before delving into this absurd, wickedly satiric novel, I should preface this review with a disclaimer: I am very passionate about Scandinavian science fiction. In fact, I even wrote my dissertation on it. So, it may be good idea to bear that in mind as I rave about my appreciation for this novel.
Part of my enthusiasm for this book can be traced back to the state of Scandinavian science fiction as a whole; although Norway, Sweden and Denmark have consistently published brilliant contributions to the genre, they are so rarely translated, and thus don’t always get the international recognition that their English language counterparts tend to automatically receive by just being accessible. So, to find such a unique and absorbing science fiction novel actually set in Denmark, revolving around Danish society and written in Danish (but translated into a few other languages already) my interest was piqued and my expectations were high. Unfortunately, it has yet to be translated into English, so although I have high hopes that it will be accessible to even more English language readers in the near future, this review is, for now, mainly for any fans of Scandinavian science fiction, or for anyone interested in reading more about those obscure, foreign language contributions to the genre.
I had actually read a few samples of Den Danske Borgerkrig 2018-24 in Danish last year, but was pleasantly surprised to find the Norwegian translation for sale in my local Tanum book shop in Norway a few months ago. I thoroughly enjoyed Kaspar Colling Nielsen’s writing style in the original, and the Norwegian translator, Kyrre Andreassen, has truly captured Colling Nielsen’s shocking, darkly comical and heavily satiric narrative voice. From what I’ve read in other people’s reviews of the novel, this style is not for everyone; indeed, there really was no topic off limit and no expletive too vulgar. Yet, what with neither Norwegian nor Danish being my mother tongue, I wouldn’t blame any native Scandinavians for wholeheartedly disagreeing with me in this review! However, I personally found this bizarre, unapologetically blunt novel refreshing; in such a boundary pushing genre as science fiction, it was great to find an author that could not only conceive such a captivating story, but to deliver it in an equally thought-provoking and entertaining manner.
The title of this novel is rather deceptive though; although it does revolve around the fictional Danish Civil War of 2018-24, the novel is actually set several hundred years in the future, with the protagonist, a 475 year old Danish man (accompanied by his 350 year old talking dog, Geoff) telling the reader about the circumstances and events building up to the war, and the subsequent state of affairs in the centuries thereafter. The key aspect that makes this science fiction is, of course, the fact that the narrator is an inhumanly old man, having been born into a hippy collective, inherited his parents’ entire fortune as a young man and, following the war, took part in a developing stem-cell programme that essentially gave him the gift of immortality… and a talking dog. As aforementioned, a significantly exciting element of this novel is that it is authentically Danish; although the protagonist does discuss how the global financial collapse that contributed to the outbreak of a civil war in Denmark affected other countries throughout the Nordic region, Europe, and further afield as well, it was fascinating to read and explore the potential Danish reactions to what seemed like universal and troublingly foreseeable triggers of war. This was especially so seeing as the civil war raged between the majority of the population and the wealthiest tiers of society; an interesting concept in a country often considered to have one of the happiest societies in the world, a successful welfare state, and for having been responsible for the international obsession with hygge.
Colling Nielsen strikes the right balance between detailed explanations of events leading up to and during the war, and highly surreal yet surprisingly moving intermittent short stories that delve into snapshots of society before, during and after the war from all sorts of perspectives. In fact, these short stories that the protagonist has picked up over the centuries and relays to the reader seem fairly inconsequential to the novel as a whole, but by the concluding chapters of post-war life in Denmark, it becomes clear how subtly they all relate to the universal effects that war has on any society. I doubt that the book would be as gripping as it is, had Colling Nielsen did not inject these vivid and poignant depictions of humanity against the backdrop of a political conflict that seems worryingly probable in the current political and economic climate.
These stories only become more absurd, grotesque and farcical throughout the novel as well; I think it’s best that I don’t list too many examples of these as I definitely found that the shock-value in some of the more tragic and disturbing stories added to the overall reading experience. However, to just touch upon some examples of my favourite stories, they included: a retelling of a story told by another talking dog (not Geoff, but a friend of Geoff’s) that was very reminiscent of Isle of Dogs; a hilariously dark analogy of Winnie the Pooh; a story that serves as a testament to Nielsen’s impeccable writing skills by somehow making me empathise with
As is probably abundantly clear by now, I would thoroughly recommend Den Danske Borgerkrig 2018-24 to fans of Scandinavian science fiction. I can easily say that this has been one of the best Scandinavian science fiction novels that I’ve read and could genuinely consider it to be one of my new favourite science fiction books in general. I would be very surprised and disappointed if this doesn’t get translated into English in the next few years. If it does, it is certainly one to consider reading, not just as a great example of Scandinavian science fiction, but as an unnervingly satirical, morbid and engaging contribution to the genre as a whole.